March 6, 2010
Theories, Facts, and 'Denialism'
Several years ago, as a member of a discussion listserv, I was surprised to learn that even prominent scientists do not necessarily hold with certain central tenets of what has traditionally been understood to be scientific method. A world-class scientist on the listserv claimed in the course of an unrelated debate that gravity was a fact, not a theory. This struck me as fundamentally wrongheaded, and it still does. It is, of course, a "fact" that unsupported objects fall. What explains this observable fact is the theory of gravity. Gravity is the theory; the falling object is the fact. The theory explains the fact, but the theory never becomes a fact. This scientist was quite adamant on the point, going so far as to assert that we inquisitive laymen on this listserv should just take his word for it, since he is an expert and we aren't. I wondered at the time how such a universally acclaimed scholar in the sciences could make an error so elementary...(Read Full Article)